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PEN Norway examines indictment that led to the conviction of lawyer Veysel Ok

PEN Norway has examined the indictment against Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Co-Director and human rights lawyer Veysel Ok where he was accused of “publicly degrading the judicial bodies of the state”  (Art. 301 of the Turkish Penal Code), as part of their “Turkey Indictment Project” which has been going on since January 2020.

Penned by lawyers Jaantje Kramer and Stella Pizzato from Lawyers for Lawyers, the report begins by Ok’s works in rights defense and summarizes the process that led up to the drafting of the indictment. The summary of the case background highlights that Ok has defended free expression in Turkey by taking on the legal representation of numerous journalists, writers and human rights defenders from a variety of political backgrounds and remarks that Ok is indicted because he exercised his right to freedom of expression.

Analysis of the indictment

The report clearly points out that the indictment is poorly written and states: “Unlike many other indictments in freedom of speech cases in Turkey, this indictment is rather short. Nevertheless, the indictment is difficult to comprehend. It is poorly written and does not fulfil the basic purpose of an indictment, namely to give the defendant an understanding of the accusation, the legal basis and the relevant evidence that supports it.”

The report also concludes that the prosecutor had drafted the indictment “as a story” and not in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code (CMK). Moreover it is underlined that the evidence for crime presented against Ok did not directly link him to the crime. 

Lawyers Kramer and Pizzato conclude their analysis by calling on the abolishing of Article 301 of the TCK: “In conclusion, the flaws in the indictment of Veysel Ok cause serious concern for the guarantees of fairness and transparency of judicial proceedings in Turkey, as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. We therefore urge the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Turkey to take our recommendations into consideration, not only by abolishing or reviewing the wording of Article 301 TCK, which is to be targeted strictly against clear and imminent threats to national security, but also by training public prosecutors about the conditions set out in Article 170 CMK.”

Case background

MLSA Co-Director Veysel Ok and journalist Cihan Acar were given a five-month suspended prison sentence each for “degrading the judicial bodies of the state” over a statement Ok made criticising the Criminal Judgeships of Peace in 2015.

In the interview, Ok had stated: “Previously, judges could hold varying opinions. There was a possibility of being tried by judges who valued freedoms. But now all members of the judiciary come in a single color. We see the judges serving at the Criminal Judgeships of Peace. They are deaf to defense statements or objections. Where the loyalties of these judges lie is clear. Nothing changes the result..because the decisions are pre-ordered.. Either, those in power give orders to the judicial authorities before the investigation, or attack the defendant via the government press.”